Dulcimer Professor: David Schnaufer
While it's true that anyone can make music with a dulcimer within minutes of picking one up, it takes a lifetime to master.
David Schnaufer was one of the few to truly master this nearly-forgotten instrument. Schnaufer was born and raised along the Gulf Coast in Texas. As a kid he played harmonica and jaw harp while listening to the hard-core country music of Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Bob Wills. He had no ambitions to be a professional musician until he attended a four night series of concerts by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris at Houston’s Liberty Hall. After that experience he knew he had to play something with strings. He tried both the Autoharp and guitar without success. Then one day in an Austin music shop he found a beautiful sounding dulcimer and bought it.
David learned to play and experiment with styles and strums. After ten months of intense practice he entered the National Dulcimer Championships at Winfield, Kansas. He won first place! He moved to West Virginia and studied Old Time music under some of the best practitioners for four years. His next move was to Nashville, where he came to be a popular session man, recording with a wide range of artists. David Schnaufer's magical dulcimer appears on albums by Cyndi Lauper, Johnny & June Carter Cash, Mark O'Connor, and The Judds. He was one of only four musicians invited to play at the 25th wedding anniversary of June and Johnny Cash (The other three were Charley Pride, Bill Monroe and Norman Blake).
His knowledge of the dulcimer also gained him notoriety. He published papers with the Tennessee Historical Society and in 1995 joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music as Adjunct Associate Professor of Dulcimer where he headed a program of historical research as well as musicianship.
David Schnaufer died this past August at the age of 53, after a battle with cancer.
What he accomplished, both musically and culturally, as a champion of this obscure American instrument is amazing.